The other day I was tipped to a movie by you all called Circle. It was a closed box movie wherein 50 people wake up in a room, and a random person would be killed every couple minutes. They then learn that the people in that room were able to vote for the next victim and all manner of hell begins to breakout. Machiavellians show themselves for who they are. Ageists, Sexists, and Bigots arrive by the busload until the movie hurtles to it’s clever ending. Want to join that conversation you can find that review here.
But it was during my searching and researching about Circle that I stumbled upon a British flick that had all the similar traits as Circle. That movie was entitle Exam. And the more I read about this movie, the more I wanted to see it. It was another closed box movie, it had a small cast. (7? 8 people? And some of my favorite movies are small cast movies, like Coherence, Time lapse, Primer, The One I Love… all had a handful of people, and amazing scripts to lean on.) I just can’t even tell you how much a good script does for differentiating a movie like this. Get a good idea? And a fantastic writer? I’m in. Speaking of which, I am reading the script presently of the movie Arrival from Eric Heisserer, and I’m pretty excited about that movie coming our way.
Exam Movie Overview
First, I’m not going to give you any spoilers in this next section, and I will be fairly explicit about when spoilers are inbound. Ok? But right now, I’m CERTAIN that almost none of you have even heard of the movie Exam. So what is it about?
Eight candidates for a job opportunity are brought to a single room, and are given a single test sheet. They are then instructed by the Invigilator (overseer) to not ruin their sheet, not to talk to the guard, or to talk to anyone outside the room. They were to have a limited time to answer the question. “Do you have any questions?” No one responded… and the test begins.
Only problem? There’s nothing on the sheet, at all.
And so begins the chaos that is Exam. The eight individuals go through a number of different phases of chaos. But the biggest question I had going in? Would any of them survive the test, let alone get hired? This gets all kinds of crazy when this thing puts the pedal to the floor. Why don’t we watch the trailer – and then, those of you who have not seen it yet can go rent it or buy it, whatever, just get it… and then come back and join in on the discussion. Fair enough?
Such a great film. And I am definitely on record extolling the virtues of dialogue driven movies. So if dialogue isn’t your dish? Just turn around and walk away, because Exam is a mental tease that requires you to think from beginning to end. To consider the motives of the characters, and the ins and outs of the world that surrounds them. So with that? If you have yet to see the film, please do… and then come back when you are done. Great.
Exam Movie Rules Walkthrough
Basically the entire movie hinges on a second point… what is the test? When the eight people are walked into the room they are given sheets of paper with a title on the front, “Candidate 1”, “Candidate 2”, etc. But there is nothing else on the sheet at all. So the candidates are stuck there to ponder the words of the Invigilator.
“I am the Invigilator, listen carefully to every word that I say. There will be no repetition. I won’t apologize for the hardships you’ve gone through to reach this room. The pressures and the pains were necessary. Resilience is a key attribute in these dark times, and if you can’t survive our selection process, you won’t survive in the job.
“Many highly qualified candidates have tried to reach this point and failed. You have succeeded, and now the final stage lies before you. One last hurdle separates you from your goal, which is to join our esteemed ranks. The test is simple in comparison, yet it will determine who leaves this room with a contract of employment and who leaves with the bus fare home. Through these trials, you’ve gained some idea of the power of this organization, so believe me when I tell you that there is no law in this room but our law. And the only rules in here are our rules. There is one question before you, and one answer is required. If you try to communicate with myself or the guard, you will be disqualified. If you spoil your paper, intentionally or accidentally, you will be disqualified. If you choose to leave this room for any reason, you will be disqualified. Any questions? Best of luck, ladies and gentlemen.
Seconds later, the Chinese woman is walked out for breaking a rule she didn’t realize was there. So, from the Invigilator’s speech, what did the candidates need to surmise were the rules of the job interview?
Rule #1 – There is no law in this room but the company’s law and the company’s rules
Rule #2 – There is only one question and only one answer.
Rule #3 – There is no communication with the guard or outside the room.
Rule #4 – If you spoil your paper, intentionally or accidentally, you’ll be disqualified.
Rule #5 – If you choose to leave the room, you’ll be disqualified.
So there are five distinct rules that the Invigilator lines up for our candidates in his opening. Each one is worded very precisely, and succinctly. You can’t leave, and you can’t throw someone else out either. You can’t spoil your paper. But the biggest and most important rule of them all? “There is only one question and only one answer.” And yet, the paper is completely empty?!?
Exam Movie Stages
Like the recent review and explanation I did for the movie Circle, these 8 people are totally Tablua Rasa’d, if I can verb that Latin. None of them know each other, and not only that, but the audience doesn’t know or understand the world we are in presently either. But they all leak out and explode onto the screen when they are ready. But each in it’s turn.
Phase 1 – Confusion Laden Chaos
The movie opens up as a free form data storm. The candidates know nothing. The candidates are confused and unsure of where to begin. But as the Oriental Woman is escorted out they begin to realize there is some sort of shape in the storm. There are rules at play here…
Phase 2 – Organizational Quandaries
Not only do they begin to grasp that there are rules that are at play, but that those rules were given to them informally in the Invigilator’s welcome speech. Embedded in the simple phrases are boundaries and cliffs awaiting them all. And if they could only just determine what the rules are specifically, maybe, just maybe they would lead to an understanding of how to solve the puzzle. And so the candidates begin pushing the boundaries and learning the rules. Occasionally one of the candidates falls afoul of a rule they hadn’t fully understood and ejects them from the game. Whoops, the interview.
Phase 3 – Collective Reasoning
They work together. For a while. Because they are lost without one another. They begin investigating developing the paper, different lights, and other ways to extract the one question from the paper. Essentially they come up dry… but they work together as a method of furthering the collective good. Which is assumed to be a thing. But wasn’t really. And as soon as they’ve started they stop working for each other’s good.
Phase 4 – Machiavellian Maneuverings
Once the rules are fully grasped… ‘don’t spoil that paper,’ ‘don’t address the guard,’ etc… and their collective good fails them all, the mood shifts from a we to a me. And the predominant theory during this phase isn’t that there is a question to solve, but that it is rather a question of Survival of the Fittest. And so the candidates begin to actively undermine one another. Trickery and manipulation is the name of the game now… get the others to invalidate their own candidacy.
Phase 5 – Comprehension and Survival
As the movie parades it’s way to the conclusion we start to see that as candidates are beginning to die, it may be more about survival than it is in fact about getting the job. Seriously. Already we have one man beaten unconscious and another shot to death. Remember what the Invigilator said in the beginning, “there is no law in this room but the company’s laws”… Apparently he wasn’t joking. The guard hasn’t moved a muscle even with someone’s hand down his pants. I mean, really? If you are in that room, you are certain that you are in a fight for survival.
Exam Ending – what just happened?
99% of you searched this post out for this one paragraph. Guaranteed. When the question is finally discovered on the page using the broken glass and the glasses it says this:
Right? I think I got that exactly right. I am certain you’ll correct me if I am wrong. But what does that mean? Did you get it? It’s a very similar statement as when the Invigilator said, There is only one question, and only one answer… Wha?
The interview question that the candidates need to answer was listed up above in the Invigilator’s speech, ready? “If you choose to leave this room for any reason, you will be disqualified. Any questions? Best of luck, ladies and gentlemen.” did you catch it?
Wow, wait, what? That, is, I thought, a rhetorical question! What would have happened if some smart Alec had said, No, actually I don’t. Would they have immediately won the position and the others escorted out? What do you think would have happened? Maybe I should ask the writer, creator, director, that very question and get back to you with his answers. Well, as luck would have it, I reached out to Mr. Hazeldine on Twitter and he was kind enough to answer this particular question, as well as a number of other questions as well.
@tayoflore yup. Or written it at any time during the test.
— Stuart Hazeldine (@stuarthazeldine) August 27, 2016
So, to clarify what Stuart Hazeldine is saying – after the Invigilator had started the test, if any one of the candidates had said out loud, or written on their sheet, “No, I don’t have any questions.” the job interview puzzle would have ended. The guard would have come and escorted out the other seven (or however many remained at that point) candidates, and they would have then offered the job to that individual. Make sense? Thanks Mr. Hazeldine for helping us sort that out!
Interview Conversation with Stuart Hazeldine
Seeing as though the conversation occurred over Twitter, I cleaned up the questions and answers a little bit for clarity sake. If you’d like to see the unedited thread of our conversation, you can do so here.
Taylor – “I just watched your movie Exam and am completely transfixed! Are you up for some questions about it?”
Stuart – “Glad you enjoyed it. Feel free to ask. Whether I can answer, we’ll see…”
Taylor – “Closed box movies that don’t feel contrived are a rarity… how do you think you pulled it off?”
Stuart – “Make your location a metaphor for the closed system of the universe/this life, and you won’t go too far wrong.”
Taylor – “See? Metaphor! Brilliant. And that’s why I do web development for a living and you make art. Next question, where the heck did Invigilator come from? I’m a word guy and I had zero idea what that meant or where it had come from.”
Stuart – “British word for examiner or supervisor. Liked the sound of it.”
Taylor – “Definitely like the name – need it on a mug. “World’s best Invigilator” has a lovely ring to it, plus movie tie in! Also, I’m curious about the pandemic world going on outside the walls of the interview. Sounds like a near zombie movie going on outside the box?”
Stuart – “When I was writing it, bird flu was a looming threat. Mix that with HIV and hey presto. But I kept things intentionally vague.”
Taylor – “Did you see viewers leaving your movie and still not understanding “Question 1.”? Did it lose many?
Stuart – “Some, probably. But if your priority is that everyone must easily understand, then the audience won’t get to do any work.”
Taylor – “This is perfect. Pandering directors are awful. You up for one more question about your upcoming direction on the movie The Shack and your faith?”
Stuart – “No harm in asking.”
Taylor – “Being a Christian director and writer makes you a bit of a unicorn in this space – is it an opportunity or more of an impediment?”
Stuart – “It’s only an impediment if you use your faith as an excuse to make substandard art, or rely on other people to offer you work.”
Taylor – “Preach it. Thanks a ton for doing what you do and representing so well. And on a personal note, I can’t wait to see Exam 2 where the candidates leave the box and see this crazy pandemic world around them.”
Stuart – “One day, perhaps.”
There you have it. Personally can’t wait for The Shack to come out. I’m sure it will be a fantastic big hit. Way bigger than the Exam was, just due to the book’s scale. But even more so? I want Hazeldine to head back and show us more about this crazy pandemic going on. I’m fairly intrigued. Anyway, thoughts? Questions? Does the ending make sense to you now that the director has clarified it a bit? Or am I daft for thinking some people didn’t get it? Love to hear more in the comments. Until next time.
Edited by, CY